Let's see if we can glean some interesting points from the massive
coverage of the Annapolis summit conference on the Middle
From Scott Wilson, Washington Post, November 24, 2007, Saudi foreign
minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal said, "If not for the Arab consensus
we felt today, we would not have decided to go"
Whether this is just an inevitable excuse or a sincere statement it
amounts to the same thing: the most radical factor, in this case Syria,
has veto power over Arab politics. The old consensus mania remains an
excuse for not doing anything. This is one more nail in the Peace
Process II coffin.
Wilson then writes:
"With its vast oil wealth and authority over Islam's holiest sites, Saudi Arabia
exercises great sway among Arabs, including the two largest Palestinian factions."
But wait a minute. If Saudi Arabia can only come if the other Arab regimes give
permission then how does it exercise great sway? And is there any evidence that
the Saudis exercise sway over Fatah (to whom they don't give money) or to Hamas
(to which they do, not the government but powerful individuals close to it)?
If ignoring what the prince says covers up a serious problem with Arab
politics-each one of which plays iceberg to Peace Process II's Titanic-Wilson's
next paragraph ignores another. The Saudis will not use whatever sway they have.
It brings the danger of internal upheaval-increasing the number of bin Ladin
supporters and terrorist attacks, too--since they have trained their people to
equate Israel with the devil.
It creates the potential for inter-Arab conflicts, which disrupts the previously
mentioned consensus, a consensus in which the most radical have veto power.
It could bring them into collision with an increasingly powerful Iran, which
Why should they bother? Let the United States and the West do all the work and
take all the blame for failure.
And as long as they fail, the Saudis can mobilize support by bashing the West to
cover up their own failings.
The sufferings, real and alleged, of the Palestinians are a great demagogic tool.
What if the peace process succeeded and the Saudis actually had to make peace
and have normal relations with Israel. Shudder.
The Saudis still hate Fatah because of Yasir Arafat's dissing of them (American
slang for "disrespect") and siding with Iraq against them in 1990-1991.
One rarely sees any of these points mentioned in the mass media or academic
presentations yet they are at the core of Middle East politics.
And how about Wilson's revisionist formulation of the Saudi peace plan:
"Saudi Arabia is the chief proponent of a plan endorsed by the Arab League in 2002
that offers Israel broad recognition by Arabs in exchange for withdrawal from all
territories seized in the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem. The Arab initiative,
which Israeli negotiators refused to include in drafts of the joint statement,
also calls for a `just' solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees who demand
the right to return to homes inside Israel."
Well that sounds quite reasonable but "broad recognition" is a bit vague. You give
us everything we want and we admit that you exist? And how about that slick
presentation of the Palestinian demand of a "right to return?" Notice how Wilson
makes this sounds like a mass movement rather than a slogan developed by the PLO
and regimes as a way to wipe out Israel. And all of the rejection of peace is put
on Israel. No mention of the PLO and Syrian refusal of peace in 2000. No mention
of the Palestinian Authority's systematic breaking of its commitments.
In this context, it is interesting to counter-pose something from Amy Teibel, AP,
November 25, 2007:
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas "said he was committed to doing everything
possible to hammer out an agreement in the coming year."
But will Abbas actually do anything? Will he break up planned
terrorist attacks? Arrest those involved in terrorism? Stop the
incitement in the Palestinian media, which he controls, to kill
Israelis and which justifies terrorist attacks on them? Begin to
educate for peace in the schools, mosques, and media? Fight corruption
and the quick transfer of foreign aid into the pockets of his
I doubt it. The mass media doesn't even mention it.
Another myth the media nurtures is exemplified in Michael Matza,
Philadelphia Inquirer, November 26, 2007, appropriately entitled,
"Pitfalls if Peace Talks Fail Again."
Matza does not rise to the occasion but does come up with a new
phrase, "After months of intense but fruitless talks about how to end
their mulish conflict, the warring parties bring their dispute to the
edge of the Chesapeake Bay…for a conference orchestrated by President
Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice."
Get it? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "mulish," based on a
stubborn blind stupidity by both sides. He continues:
"But in the Middle East, where blood is spilled routinely, the price
of failure can be another round of deadly violence. To reach for peace
is admirable. But it can quickly turn lethal if the groundwork isn't
there and the effort fails, experts say.
"A flop could mean the extremist Palestinian faction Hamas expands its
sphere of control from the Gaza Strip into the West Bank. It could
weaken Palestinian moderates and energize another round of limited
warfare if ordinary Palestinians, stirred by frustration, join the
fighters because they see no political horizon that leads to a
This is precisely backwards. First, it should be noted how disgusting
is the phrase that in the Middle East "blood is spilled routinely." It
is consistent with the "mulish" idea that all these people simply act
irrationally. Bloodshed is terrible but it is not based on habit but
on goals. It is the extremism of ends and of ideology that brings
about the extremism of means.
The kind of thinking used by most Western reporters applies very well
to Western society or politics but completely fails to comprehend how
things work in the Middle East. No wonder this cannot explain the
past, help in the present, or predict the future.
In this case, the model implies that people yearn for peace,
compromise, and conciliation. When they don't get it they use
violence. In fact, this has nothing to do with reality. The problem is
that peace, compromise, and conciliation are equated with heresy,
treason, and surrender. The more these "good" outcomes appear
possible, the higher the level of violence used to prevent them.
Consider that Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip led to Hamas
taking over; Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon strengthened
Hamas; the 1990s' peace process did not produce many Palestinian
moderates; U.S. democracy promotion helped radical Islamists more than
moderate democrats; and the invasion of Iraq did not bring peace and
love among Iraqis.
This doesn't mean that the Annapolis conference or trying to achieve
peace is a bad thing. But it does mean that no one is ever going to
resolve a conflict until they understand who is at fault for
continuing it or why it persists.